One of Michael Ignatieff’s close caucus supporters said to me the other day, “We’re still supporting Michael, but Bob Rae has gained our trust.”
He went on to list some of the reasons he and others now have more faith in Rae than Iggy. At the Sudbury party meeting last month, Rae got it right. He was saying, behind the scenes, that Iggy should not be pushing for an election because it would make him look just as the Conservative attack ads were depicting him — an opportunist. Iggy didn’t take Rae’s advice.
He vowed to bring down the government as soon as possible. But the gambit has done more to bring him down than the prime minister. Caucus members now say they will undercut any order by Iggy to defeat the government by conveniently being absent on voting day.
In June, Ignatieff’s team was pressing for a summer election. Rae cautioned against such a move, saying the party wasn’t ready and summer wasn’t the time. But the leader came out sounding hawkish, ready to go. Then he suddenly pulled back when told his party wasn’t financially ready. In so doing, he looked feckless.
The far more experienced Rae has told associates he is not happy with Ignatieff’s handling of the job. A participant at morning meetings with the leader and some MPs says Rae’s performance there has been noticeably less enthusiastic in recent times.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, whose old team is replete with Rae supporters, complained recently that he hasn’t been hearing much from the Liberal leader. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he said, calls him more often.
On the weekend, Rae had to come forward to deny he orchestrated a move by a group of Liberal senators to amend a crime bill, a bill that Ignatieff was supporting.
As common sense would suggest, Rae, who fell short in a couple of runs for the crown, still has leadership ambitions. He can protest that he is being loyal, that he is doing nothing to encourage his supporters. But with the party in a free fall, disgruntled caucus members are going to talk and journalists are going to listen.
The last thing the Liberals need at this point is a new outbreak of leadership feuding. But unless Ignatieff reverses his slide, that’s what they’ll get.